Thursday, 31 May 2007

Moving doesn't get easier

I have neglected my blog this month but I have a good excuse - I was moving house. You'd think that with my experience of moving, I'd have it down to a tee but no - it's still the most frustrating and traumatic thing you can possibly imagine, and then some.

In 2000 I moved to an offshore island and learned a lot about tide and time waiting for no man - and the usefulness of the phrase "weather permitting". In 2002 I moved from the island, via Ireland and England, to north west France. There I learned more about logistics as well as the joys of french paperwork, plumbing and wiring. The next move in 2003 was to England, which I thought would be easy peasy after the previous 2 experiences. But if you have ever tried to open a bank account or set up accounts with utilities etc in England, you will know what I mean when I say that it was like walking around with fraudster painted on my forehead.

This month's move was just down the road - I could almost have moved with a wheelbarrow. Except, again, I was horrified by the amount of stuff you can accumulate in a few years - mountains of expensive plastic rubbish, reams of paperwork that you don't have time to filter for keep or chuck, assorted screws and fixings that, again, you don't have time to filter - it goes on. After exporting a monster spider from Sherkin Island to France, I have learned that it's important to clean before you leave - but where does all that dust come from?

I prepared as much in advance - gave up counting when I had packed 19 boxes of books that nobody in the house will probably ever read again. Spent a couple of days on phone and internet informing people about change of address and that's when things started to slide downhill. I have never learned to tolerate fools, much as I try to empathise with the monkeys who are paid peanuts to deal with my call.

First problem was transferring my broadband service. I have been a loyal customer of virgin DSL broadband services for three and a half years - all I wanted to do was transfer this account to my new address. But virgin recently transformed itself into virgin media, adding cable broadband to its existing DSL broadband services. If I switched to cable service, I was told, the transfer could be almost immediate but would take two weeks if I stayed with DSL service, for some obscure and ill-explained technical reasons. I was happy to switch until I discovered that I could not port my existing email address to the new service and they would not provide forwarding from my old email address for more than one month. The reason is that they are phasing out the old email server over the next year - hmm. It seems that they now have two separate mail services and they haven't got the joined up thinking to connect them - it gets worse. But if I signed up to today as a new dial up customer, I could use the old mail server. But they don't allow you to downgrade. How's that for customer service? Eventually, after losing most of 2 days on calls to what must be their entire customer service team, annoyed that nobody seemed to have notes of my previous calls, I gave up and opted to retain the DSL service that would take 2 weeks. But they neglected to tell me that 2 weeks would be almost 3 weeks because their was a holiday weekend in the mix. And, while I waited, I had to rely on a temporary downgrade to the dial up service I'm not allowed to buy, costing 3 pence per minute and taking about 3 minutes to download one email. Having ensured that I didn't have the bandwidth to sort out any other moving-related comms issues, I had to endure internet withdrawal as a reward for being a loyal customer.

The next issue was with my water provider. They privatised water provision in Britain some years ago but each region is run by a monopoly service provider. I deal with South West Water, who have happily taken about 1000 pounds a year out of my bank without a please or thank you. The average water bill in the country is less than 400 pounds but we pay for the pleasure of keeping the local beaches clean for the yoiks from London and up North that come and pollute them every summer. I was moving from a house without a water meter to a house with a meter so it's all systems change. Again, the customer falls foul of company process. They advised me to ring when I moved to provide them with a meter reading. Before I had a chance to locate the meter, let alone read it, I received a bill from them for more than 1000 pounds, requiring payment within 14 days. The bill was issued the day I rang them, before I had even moved and at a time when they actually owed me almost 100 pounds. I spent a morning on the phone to a patronising git who explained it was all my fault for not providing the meter reading. I asked for a formal letter of apology and, in its place, received a letter that lectured me about not providing my meter reading. Nice work guys.

The phone company sent me a bill for transferring the phone line, the gas people sent me a letter after a couple of weeks full of dire warnings about not taking on the debts of the previous occupants, a debt collector called the first weekend looking for the previous occupants - what other delights are in store I wonder. The plumbing is a mess, the garden is a jungle of weeds and builder's rubble and it has been raining constantly since the day I moved in.

But my broadband is back, my fon wifi is solid, I've found a change of clothes and there's plenty of room in the loft for my boxes. Summer starts tomorrow and heaven help the weather god if he lets me down - I'll shake my fist in despair, name him and shame him on my blog and I'll write a stiff letter of complaint - I'm getting plenty of practice at that.

In the midst of all this, I didn't get a chance to continue my commentary on Estonia or to write about elections in Ireland, the undemocratic rise to power of Gordon Brown, the shameless departure tour of Tony Blair or the even more shameless vote in the House of Commons to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act. I'm promising myself I will get to them soon unless the plumbing or the weeds get the better of me.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Peaceful protest against Estonian government meets hardline response

Just got word that there is more trouble in Estonia. At midday Estonian time (GMT+2), for half an hour people drove their cars through the city at 5km per hour, hooting their car horns, in protest at the government of Prime Minister Ansip. Large numbers of police were in the city centre, noting the number plates of the cars. The media broadcast a thank you from the police to the helpful people who rang up with car numbers, and advised that all participants will be sent fines.

With the city returning to calm after the weekend riots, it seems strange that a relatively peaceful protest is greeted with such severity. Surely a drive past is preferable to street battles and looting? As Chairman of the Tartu Communist Party in 1988, Ansip quelled protests against the Soviet Union. It is ironic that 20 years on, he is quelling protests in the guise of great Estonian nationalist. Now that's a clever bit of reinvention.

Conspiracy theories are flying around which blame foreign influence on recent events. If there is undue external influence it is not clear who is behind it. One theory suggests that the goal is to halt a gas pipeline project that would connect Russia and Germany, circumventing the Ukraine. The pipeline was constructed in the Soviet era and passes through Estonian waters. Perhaps the goal is to destablise the EU. Or maybe there is no conspiracy at all, just bad luck and mismanagement? Only time will tell.